Life Sciences

Schools can link science learning to real world innovations through hands-on labs and authentic engagement, fostering systems-based, interdisciplinary and critical thinking capacities. Unlike the humanities, life sciences innovations continue to manifest and transform the landscape every day. We need a way to keep the learning happening in schools current with the changes in this field. Acera has developed and pilot-tested an 11-unit biology curriculum that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards and offers lab activities such as gene editing with CRISPR and cultivating c-acnes using students’ own skin microbiome samples. Our Life Science Change Agent Teachers series and curricula tools are starting to change the face of high school biology in Massachusetts.

Bringing CRISPR, The Human Microbiome and The Secret Life of Plants to more classrooms

It was June, and although school had recently ended, the learning continued. Leonardo Medina, a teacher at Humanities & Leadership Development High School in Lawrence, was captivated by AceraEI’s free professional development workshops in gene editing and microbiomics, and anticipates his students will be excited about the new units. 

“The activity and discussion about CRISPR generated many questions that did not have specific answers, and in many ways that replicates the way scientists work,” he said. “It’ll be very rewarding to see students buy in and engage themselves in the lab activity while they develop a scientist mindset.”  

Medina was one of about 25 local high school science teachers who came to Acera to edit genes using CRISPR and/or swab their own foreheads to culture their skin microbiome. The goal – deeply connected to AceraEI’s mission to reinvent life sciences education – is for the teachers to bring these cutting edge curriculae to their own classrooms. 

The three-day and two-day intensive workshops this summer were part of a series of trainings led this year by Michael Hirsch in the Life Sciences. Hirsch’s curriculae – developed and pilot-tested at Acera – included hands-on experiments and guidance on how to answer commonly asked questions about the units. As a result of this training, more than 1,000 public school students will soon apply CRISPR to edit a gene or better understand their skin microbiome in their own high school science classrooms. 

The workshops were funded through recent $50,000 grants from both the Amgen Foundation and Bristol-Myers Squibb. With additional funding, AceraEI will be able to offer ongoing support to implement the science labs that teach 21st century skills, and release new units which, cumulatively, can reinvent how high school biology is taught.

Gene editing with CRISPR, The Human Microbiome, The Secret Life of Plants, and What Should We Eat are four of nine units developed by Hirsch to reinvent high school biology. Future funding will support the expansion of our life sciences teacher trainings to include the full, year-long curricula, engaging students in cutting-edge biology and fostering the next generation of innovators and scientists. 

SY21-22 Guest Scientist Speaker Series

Upcoming Talks
4-4:45 p.m. on zoom:

Past Talks (Watch video recordings!)

October 14, 2021: Haolong Zhu, Ph.D cand., Carnegie Institution for Science and Johns Hopkins University

January 13, 2022: David Morrissey, Ph.D., Triplet Therapeutics

April 14, 2022: Jaime Cordova, Ph.D cand., University of Wisconsin-Madison 

May 5, 2022: Brittany Berdy, Ph.D., Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

May 19, 2022: Reza Kalhor, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University

Choose a unit below

Natural Selection and Population Dynamics


Bioinformatics: Cladistics and Phylogeny


Inheritance and the Life of the Cell


The Tragedy of the Commons


Biomes and Butterflies


LSCAT Cohort Summer 2022

Earn Professional Development Points (PDPs)

As of May 2021, Acera Education Innovation (AceraEI) is an authorized PD Provider in Curriculum and Instruction-General and Science and Technology/Engineering for lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school grade teachers. 

According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), PDPs should only be awarded to an educator for professional development that includes all of the following:

  • A minimum of 10 hours,
  • An assessment of learning (which may be an end-of-course assessment or an observable demonstration of learning), and
  • Evidence that a participant has met the provider’s criteria for mastery

Participants of the 2022 LSCAT Cohort are eligible for up to 35 PDPs in Science and Technology/Engineering. If only partially attending the weeklong training, please contact to find out how many PDPs you are eligible for. 

Awards of PDPs are contingent upon the following:

Formative Assessment

Day 1: Microbiome Part 1

Day 1 Exit Ticket

Complete Here
Day 2: Secret Life of Plants

Day 2 Flipgrid Recording (pw: summer21)

Record Here
Day 3: What Should We Eat?

Day 3 Exit Ticket

Complete Here
Day 4: Unit Planning Workshop

Day 4 Exit Ticket

Day 5: Microbiome Part 2

Please complete Post-Session Survey below

Evaluation of PD Program


Complete before Monday, August 15, 2022


Complete after Friday, August 19, 2022

Summative Assessment

Your Goal: Modify or extend one unit plan from this training in a way that fits your students and context. 

Types of artifacts to submit:

  • A slideshow presentation 
  • A writing assignment 
  • A warm-up activity or lesson plan to explicitly teach collaboration and problem-solving skills in small groups 
  • A pacing guide modified for your school schedule and anticipated time for implementation

Along with the final artifact, submit a written paragraph addressing the following:

  • A description of your students (i.e. grade, advanced/honors students, English language learners, etc.)
  • The focus of your modification (i.e. vocabulary support for ELLs, executive functioning scaffolds, enhanced multimodal presentation, alteration for 8th graders’ readiness)
  • How your artifact aligns with standards (SEP, NGSS, and/or Massachusetts Curriculum Framework), enhancing student opportunities for problem solving, critical thinking, and/or creativity
  • A planned timeline for implementation

Most importantly, this artifact should enable you to implement a unit (or more) in the next school year.

If you attended this workshop with a colleague(s), please work with them. If you did not attend with a colleague from your school, you may work alone on this assignment. 

Time during the PD week will be allocated to developing this artifact. Submit your artifact and written description to by Friday, August 26, 2022. Upon review and evidence of mastery, by mid-September you will receive a PDP certificate via email.

Learning Objectives:

Standard I: Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment

  • Teachers will develop competence in a range of skills to conduct and facilitate hands-on CRISPR experiments in a classroom setting. Specific skills include measuring precisely with a micropipette, preparing agar media, culturing bacteria, conducting a bacterial transformation, preparing a molecular biology reaction, and enacting safety procedures throughout.
  • Teachers will deepen subject matter knowledge through lectures, lab-activities, and discussions with expert scientists, focusing on real-world applications of biotechnology.
  • Teachers will learn and adapt detailed pacing guides with clear links to standards.
  • Teachers will learn how to assess student learning through lab reports, discussions, and other approaches.

Standard II: Teaching All Students

  • Teachers will learn how to increase student motivation, engagement, and interest in STEM careers through hands-on labs.
  • Teachers will customize, modify, or extend AceraEI’s curricular unit(s) to match their learners’ needs and/or specific school context with the goal of implementing units within a 1 year timeframe.
  • Teachers will understand how student guides provide scaffolds to support student learning. Strategies include executive functioning prompts, close reading strategies, table to text modifications, and support with vocabulary in context.
  • Teachers will engage all students by linking science and technology to compelling moral issues, fostering interdisciplinary thinking and opportunities for student interests, choice, and voice.

Standard IV: Professional Culture

  • Teachers will promote student learning and growth through culturally proficient, skilled, and collaborative practice. 
  • Teachers will network with colleagues across and within their own districts, collaboratively problem solving to plan implementation of one new unit in the following year.
  • Teachers will learn how to model collaborative practice for students.

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